Northern Soul [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - United Kingdom - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (6th March 2015).
The Film

Taking place in Lancashire, England in 1974, a reclusive and lonely teenager John (played by Elliot James Langridge) is picked on at school by his teacher (played by Steve Coogan) and classmates, ignored by his parents, and a shy boy in front of girls. His parents encourage him to try to be more social, and to go to a local youth club, where some local teens go and listen to a DJ play some charting records in the background. There John meets Matt (played by Josh Whitehouse), a teenager who encourages the DJ to play one song as a request: something not at the top of the charts, but an American Soul song. The song and Matt’s dance moves spark an interest for John, and the two immediately become best friends. Matt lets John borrow some tapes, and John starts getting into the music deeply. But with the sudden death of John’s grandfather, his suppressed emotions explode with him yelling at his parents for not caring about him or his grandfather’s feelings, and literally telling his teacher to “fuck off” during an exam. Both lead John to quit school and also move out his house to live with Matt and his older brother Paul, who is planning to fly to America with the main interest of acquiring underground soul records. The two start their plans toward spinning soul records on their own at a club, collecting infamous “cover-up” songs, and dream about going to America together. What starts as fun and friendship turns dark, as the two start getting hooked on amphetamines, arguments and fights come between them, and their record collecting obsessions become a competition.

“Northern Soul” is the debut feature film from photographer Elaine Constantine, who also has a few directing credits for music videos. Authenticity toward the time period was a key point for the filmmakers, with attention to detail to specific dates of when certain records were made available, the wardrobes of the characters, and the look and feel of the entire film in general, as if the movie was made in 1974.

The cast is mostly made of unknowns, but there are some big names like the aforementioned Steve Coogan and singer Lisa Stansfield as John’s mum. The main leads Elliot James Langridge and Josh Whitehouse are excellent in their respective roles. Langridge transforms from a shy teen to a powerfully egotistical drug crazed kid, and with Northern Soul dance moves to kill for, although you do wonder how a kid with no musical taste suddenly becomes a master in such a short period of time. But the film “Footloose” also had that, so it’s not anything new. Whitehouse on the other hand, starts off as being the rebellious antagonist becomes the kid you start rooting for especially when his best friend starts ignoring him and starts becoming the loner, the role reversal by the third act of the film.

Speaking of the third act, that may be one of the weaker parts of the film. The passage of time moves a bit too suddenly and the ending was rushed. Possibly if a montage of time passing or some additional scenes of reflection could have made it a better paced film.

Originally, the film was supposed to get a very small theatrical release followed by a video release only 3 days later. But with a grassroots support started by the filmmakers and Internet campaigning, the number of theaters to screen the film increased, and the little indie film hit the UK box office top 10 for the weekend, surprising and surpassing all expectations.

"Northern Soul" won the NME Best Film of 2014 award. Also, the film was nominated for the 2015 BAFTA Outstanding Debut for a Writer, Director or Producer Award and the 2015 London Critics Circle Breakthrough British Filmmaker Award.

Note that the Blu-ray is region free and can be played on any Blu-ray player regardless of geographic location.

Video

The 1.85:1 image looks impressive. The colors look and feel very much like a 70’s film, with a slightly dark color palette showing the grittiness of “shithole” Lancashire (as it was mentioned in the film, not my personal wording).

Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the main draw here. This is a film filled with music and if this didn’t sound good, then what’s the point, really? Songs by Billy Butler, Marvin Gaye, Shirley Ellis, Luther Ingram, and countless other soul classics and soul underground classics play throughout the movie. The club scenes sound incredibly full, with the echoed sounds of the songs mixed with the dancing crowd’s footwork and synchronized handclaps especially about 45 minutes into the film made me very happy to have a home theater.

The dialogue sounds clear, and for people who might have some difficulty with the accents, English subtitles for the hard of hearing are available. English is the only option available for audio and subtitles.

Note for people interested in the soundtrack, there are 2 versions of the soundtrack album available: a 2xCD+DVD edition with a 24-page booklet, and a 14x7" vinyl edition with a 60-page hardback book.

Extras

There is only one bonus feature on the disc, but it’s a good one.

“The Making of Northern Soul” runs for 46:57, and chronicles quite a lot. It talks about the genesis of the project with the filmmakers, also has quite a lot of behind the scenes footage, the dance lessons given to the stars and extras for authenticity, the post-production process including money issues, and an interview with choreographer Fran Franklin, who died before the movie was released . Much more detailed and very well edited together than the average featurette on other new releases.

The documentary is in 1080p and also includes optional English subtitles like the feature film.

Packaging

Issued in a standard Blu-ray keepcase, the disc itself looks like a 7" vinyl record, similar to the style of the Criterion Collection edition of "Mystery Train". A small nice touch.

Overall

"Northern Soul" is the little indie film that could. It does have a lot of similar qualities to period set English films like the highly regarded "This Is England" and the severely underappreciated "Cemetery Junction", and should not be overlooked. Music fans especially will embrace it.

The Film: B Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: B- Overall: B+

 


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